The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

Got a tip? Have something you need to tell us? Contact us

Loading Recent Classifieds...

Living Wage Ordinance faced tough fight

By mid-December 2006, the upcoming year was looking up for the hotel workers in the Los Angeles International Airport area.

On Nov. 27, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed the Century Corridor living-wage ordinance into law, mandating that the hotels located near the airport provide their employees with a living wage of $9.39 per hour with health benefits and $10.64 without.

The ordinance was planned to go into effect on Dec. 30, bringing with it what many hope will prove to be a positive change in the surrounding communities.

However, in a news conference that city and business dealers, including Villaraigosa and members of the Chamber of Commerce, attended early Wednesday morning, an agreement was reached which calls for a one-year-phase-in of the living wage.

The deal also includes creating an economic overlay zone for LAX hotels which means hotel operators may receive tax breaks in exchange for increased employee wages. The agreement came on the day of a deadline to respond to the referendum.

The ride to yesterday’s decision, however, has been a rocky one. As the council began to build momentum with the living-wage ordinance, the hotels began to hire lobbyists and lawyers, rising in opposition. The lobbyists began the process of collecting signatures for a petition that would put the ordinance on hold until May 2007.

The petition required 49,308 valid signatures to be gathered by Dec. 29. On this date, a press conference was held and the opposition announced that they had gathered twice the number of signatures needed. The city clerk has 30 days from Dec. 29 to determine the validity of the signatures.

Councilmember Janice Hahn said she hopes that the ordinance, if passed, will have a major impact in the lives of the hotel employees. Currently, these workers make 20 percent less than workers in other parts of the area, according to Derek Smith, director of hospitality and tourism at Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. When asked about this discrepancy in pay, Karen Englund, director of marketing for the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, declined to comment, stating only that the hotel would comply with any law passed by the city.

According to Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, the area hotels and much of the business community had risen in strong opposition to the ordinance while others, like Hahn and himself, feel that this is a necessary step toward the improvement of Los Angeles.

In fact, he said the City Council’s Commerce and Trade Committee has been discussing making changes to the area for quite some time. The committee has considered methods through which they could bring about a transformation in the area turning it into a destination stop rather than simply an interim stop for travelers as it is currently, Rosendahl said. This, in essence, would improve business in the area, making it a more vibrant part of the city.

“The City Council was looking at doing some improvements along Century Boulevard, like improving landscaping, and perhaps building a conference center. During those conversations, the working conditions of the hotel workers came to our attention,” said Councilmember Janice Hahn, who authored the living-wage ordinance.

If the workers were getting a living wage, Rosendahl said, the situation would be better for them and therefore better for morale, and this would help to improve business on the Century Corridor. Yet, those in opposition to the ordinance, such as Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben, feel that the ordinance is setting a precedent for what he called a slippery slope.

He said that the Chamber of Commerce has stood in opposition to the ordinance as it is the first time the city’s living-wage ordinance has applied to businesses which do not have a contract with the city. Other businesses have already expressed their concern that the city will impose the precedent set by this ordinance on any business, justifying it because it is located near a city facility Toebben said. The deal ,however, provides assurance that the ordinance will not affect private businesses in the area.

Rosendahl argued that it was not a slope at all, reasoning that the ordinance is isolated specifically to Century Boulevard because of the business with which the airport has provided the area.

“We believe that the city can have a say with these particular hotels because they directly benefit from the city resource: LAX. These workers are not being paid enough currently so the city stepped in,” Hahn said, through e-mail correspondence.

As it stands now, 25 percent of the people who work in the specified hotels live in the surrounding communities of Lennox, Hawthorne and Inglewood, an area in which one in four residents lives below the federal poverty line, according to LAANE.

“The hotel workers bring the poverty back to the community so all the things associated with poverty, like crime and bad education, are a direct result of the wages that these hotels are paying,” Smith said.

Indeed, studies of the area do reveal rampant crime. According to a study of the area released by LAANE, the violent crime rate for the area is five times higher than the rest of the county.

There is a direct correlation between the poverty, crime and abuse that is seen in these areas and the low wages paid by the nearby hotels, Hahn said.

“These workers are the face of hospitality for Los Angeles. They deserve to be compensated fairly,” Hahn said, adding that she hopes the ordinance will have a large impact on the community, significantly improving the quality of life for the hotel workers.

Still, Toebben said the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce does not feel that this is a decision that the City Council has the right to make.

The City Council members are prepared to submit a challenge regarding the methodology that is being used to get signatures, according to Rosendahl.

Allegedly, the lobbyists have been misrepresenting the petition in an effort to obtain signatures. Rosendahl said that he was approached outside of a Whole Foods store in Mar Vista and asked by a signature gatherer if he was in support of a living wage.

He said that he was and upon his reply, the signature gatherer for the lobbyists said, “Well then, sign this.”

“In this particular case, I was appalled with the misrepresentation of the political process by these people,” Rosendahl said. He was so appalled that on Dec. 15, he and Hahn held a press conference to talk about the methods of the signature gatherers.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the Chamber has taken that position,” said Rosendahl, reasoning that the City Council has put hundreds of millions of dollars into efforts that improve business in the city.

According to Hahn, the City Council has no plans to further implement similar ordinances nor is there any intention to expand this specific ordinance beyond the 12 hotels along Century Boulevard.

“The government’s responsibility is to provide a safety net for the people and that’s why we have people in office to make policy decisions. You can’t leave it all to the private sector,” said Rosendahl, who represents the district in which the airport is located.

Currently, 40 to 60 percent of the area hotel workers receive less than a living wage and, for now at least, their earnings for the following year will be substantially higher.

Although the financial future for many of these workers remains unclear, what is clear is that Los Angeles citizens are willing to support them, as a new poll just released by Working Californians, an advocacy group focusing on quality of life issues for working men and women in California, revealed. When read a description of the Living Wage law, 74 percent of likely L.A. voters supported it, while only 23 percent opposed it and just 3 percent were undecided, the poll reports.

With the ordinance passing, it could provide LAX area hotel employees a brighter year, at lea
st for now.

More to Discover